Truth about tobacco (1897)

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Truth about tobacco: What it really does to those who use it

Discovery made by a famous scientist

The attention of the medical fraternity has been attracted by a series of remarkable scientific experiments to determine the effect of tobacco on the human system.

These experiments, it is asserted, are the first of their kind, and the results have proved of high value. Popular interest has been aroused by the publication here of the conclusion reached, coupled with the announcement that on both sides of the Atlantic the consumption of tobacco is largely on the increase. There have been so many reports recently of young men dying and going mad from the excessive use of tobacco that the experiments to determine its exact effects have been vested with additional interest.

It was at first proposed to use men as the subjects of the experiments, but mature consideration changed this idea, as the amount of tobacco necessary to produce the desired results would so shatter the system as to make the subject a physical wreck. While several medical students heroically offered themselves in the cause of science, their services were declined, and animals, whose systems most closely resemble man’s, being especially subject to toxic influences, were substituted. Prof. William Morrow, than whom no man is better acquainted with the mortal tenement of humanity, conducted the investigation. Heretofore there have been a thousand and one theories regarding the effect of tobacco, but Prof. Morrow has reduced the theory to practice. He has proved by the only absolute test of accuracy — machinery — that tobacco stimulates those who use it, but always leaves a scar.

The scientific charts

The accompanying charts show beyond peradventure the exact effect upon the nerves of the nicotine, which is all there is of tobacco that really affects us. The apparatus used was especially interesting, consisting of what the doctors know as Marey’s tambour. By this apparatus the movements of the air in and out of the chest are recorded on a moving surface. A lever scratches curves on a strip of lamp blacked paper in such a way that the upstroke of the curve, reading from left to right, corresponds to expiration, and the down stroke to inspiration. The depth of the curves is proportionate to the force of the respirations; that is, the force of the breaths taken.

The accompanying chart, which is marked figure 1, shows the respiratory or breathing curves of a rabbit that is poisoned with tobacco. The first line of £he figures show the breathing of the rabbit just after it has been placed under the influence of ether. An infusion of tobacco was then injected into the bowel of the animal, the first effect of which is shown in the second line, slower breathing being indicated. The third line shows the breathing of the animal five minutes after the injection of tobacco, and the fourth line, eight minutes after the injection.

Now, observe these lines, and it will be seen that the breathing has become quicker again. The fifth line, which shows that the breathing thirteen minutes after the injection, indicates slower breathing again, while the sixth line shows that eighteen minutes after the injection of tobacco, the expulsion of air from the lungs practically failed, and breathing was reduced to a mere gasp, the result of the attempt to take in breath.

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To read the charts correctly, one should read from left to right, just as the printed page is read. The upstroke of the line indicates expiration, or the expulsion of air from the lungs. The down strokes mean taking in breath. It is, in other words, the rise and fall of the chest reduced to the medium of black lines. Looking at it from this basis, the charts become simplicity itself. Summed up, the chart shows the effect of tobacco to be this: First, slower breathing; second, increased breathing; third, shorter and slower breathing; fourth, the breathing consists of merely an infrequent deep breath or inspiration, more in the nature of a gasp.

Physiological discoveries

It is generally supposed that that part of the nervous system of a person called the pneumogastric nerves is the center, as it were, of all nerve inspiration. Without radiations of effect from them it has been believed that no narcotic could effect the system to any appreciable degree. So, after the second chart had been made for the purpose of showing the effect of ether upon the system of the rabbit, the pneumogastric nerves were cut and another injection was made. The severing of the pneumogastric nerves removed them from all possible communication with the remainder of the nervous system. It was not possible that they should affect anything at all.

The result showed, almost as in the first case, quicker and deeper breathing, then slower and weaker breathing, then failure to expel the air from the lungs, then deep breaths, the escape of the air from the lungs without any attempt to expel it. This shows beyond question that the affect of tobacco on the nerves and the entire system of a person would be felt if there were no pneumogastrics at all.

The next experiment, the results of which are shown in figure IV, was to poison a rabbit with tobacco, and the pneumogastric nerves, instead of being severed, were stimulated at intervals with an electrical current. The effect of this stimulation was at first to stop breathing, or, in some cases, to render it slight and rapid. Towards the end of the rabbit’s life, the effect of the stimulation became less marked, and in the final stage of poisoning the use of the electrical current failed to affect the breathing to any great extent, although inspirations were still taking place.

Prof. Morrow believes that the profound change in the breathing may be attributed with reason to the fact of the various impulses that usually come from the nerves being cut off from the center. The result was that the nerves were only stimulated to action in an imperfect way by impure blood. The cutting off of all possible nervous impulses from the nerve centers causes the respiration to become extraordinarily slow and this makes each individual breath deeper. These deep breaths are undoubtedly due to the stimulation of the center of the blood.

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Experiments similar to those of which the rabbits were made the subjects were next tried on dogs. Only one tracing is shown herewith of the result, and that is figure VI. Prof. Morrow says that the dog experiments were really among the first performed, and in his inexperience, he waited too long before taking the second tracing. This explains why the tracing or chart, figure VI. does not show that stage in tobacco poisoning where the breathing becomes quicker. It does indicate, plainly enough, however, the final and characteristic stages of slow and failing breath with deep gasping inspirations.

The conclusions

From these experiments, the following conclusions were reached:

First — Tobacco stimulates the nervous system in all cases, and in every instance the smoker sacrifices a certain portion of nervous vitality to compensate for the stimulus thus received.

Second — Nicotine poisoning seems to act principally upon the respiratory or breathing center, eventually paralyzing the expiratory division of it, that which expels the breath from the lungs, and renders the whole center insensitive to many nervous impulses.

Third — The gasping inspiration which sometimes seizes us and is often given the name of spasmodic asthma, is the result of tobacco poisoning, the effect of the nicotine upon the respiratory center.

Further investigation of the question has shown that while all the facts stated concerning the effect of nicotine upon the nervous system are true, it lies with the smoker in a measure to, by his manner of life, offset or nullify the effect of tobacco poisoning. A man of phlegmatic, easy going disposition can smoke heavily without receiving great harm, while a highly nervous person who smokes to the same extent, is likely to injure his health in great degree. As a rule, a man who is much in the open air and takes sufficient exercise will experience no ill effects from smoking, while a man who leads a sedentary life may suffer much.

Tobacco would appear, after tolerance has been established, to be a stimulant to the heart, and the curious combination of a stimulant and sedative to the nerves. As a matter of fact, the smoker only imagines that he is being soothed. It is the effect of tobacco upon the nerve centers and the imparting of the stimulus thus received to the nerves of the brain, that gives men the idea that the inhaling of tobacco smoke soothes.


Top image: “Waiting for an opportunity to disturb the peace,” by W T Smedley (1897) via LOC

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